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An evaluation of the geographic method for recognizing innovations in nature, using zoo orangutans


Lehner, S R; Burkart, J M; van Schaik, C P (2010). An evaluation of the geographic method for recognizing innovations in nature, using zoo orangutans. Primates, 51(2):101-118.

Abstract

Innovation and social learning are the raw materials
for traditions and culture. Of these two, innovation
has received far less scrutiny, largely because of
difficulties assessing the innovation status of behaviors.
A recent attempt proposes recognition of innovations in
natural populations based on assessment of the behavior’s
properties and its geographic and local prevalence. Here we
examine the validity of this approach and the list of 43
potential innovations it generated for wild orangutans by
extending the comparison to zoo orangutans. First, we
created an inventory of the behavioral repertoire in the zoo
population. Four of ten putative innovations recognized in
the field and potentially present in captivity did not occur
despite appropriate conditions, suggesting they are indeed
innovations. Second, we experimentally produced relevant
conditions to evaluate whether another five potential
innovations could be elicited. Based on their continued
absence or on their latencies relative to known behaviors,
four of the potential innovations could be assessed as
innovations and one as a modification. Because 53% of
relevant innovations recognized in the field could be confirmed in this analysis, and another 27% assigned possible innovation status, we conclude that the geographic method for detecting innovation in the wild is valid. However, the experiments also yielded up to 13 additional innovations, suggesting that zoo orangutans are far more innovative than wild ones. We discuss the implications of this latter finding with regard to limiting factors for the expansion of cultural repertoires in wild orangutans.

Abstract

Innovation and social learning are the raw materials
for traditions and culture. Of these two, innovation
has received far less scrutiny, largely because of
difficulties assessing the innovation status of behaviors.
A recent attempt proposes recognition of innovations in
natural populations based on assessment of the behavior’s
properties and its geographic and local prevalence. Here we
examine the validity of this approach and the list of 43
potential innovations it generated for wild orangutans by
extending the comparison to zoo orangutans. First, we
created an inventory of the behavioral repertoire in the zoo
population. Four of ten putative innovations recognized in
the field and potentially present in captivity did not occur
despite appropriate conditions, suggesting they are indeed
innovations. Second, we experimentally produced relevant
conditions to evaluate whether another five potential
innovations could be elicited. Based on their continued
absence or on their latencies relative to known behaviors,
four of the potential innovations could be assessed as
innovations and one as a modification. Because 53% of
relevant innovations recognized in the field could be confirmed in this analysis, and another 27% assigned possible innovation status, we conclude that the geographic method for detecting innovation in the wild is valid. However, the experiments also yielded up to 13 additional innovations, suggesting that zoo orangutans are far more innovative than wild ones. We discuss the implications of this latter finding with regard to limiting factors for the expansion of cultural repertoires in wild orangutans.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Department of Anthropology
Dewey Decimal Classification:300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
Language:English
Date:21 April 2010
Deposited On:07 May 2010 12:10
Last Modified:26 Jan 2017 08:47
Publisher:Springer
ISSN:0032-8332
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1007/s10329-009-0184-8
PubMed ID:20072848

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